You just can’t do enough to commemorate Ulysses S. Grant was the slogan in the early 1900s. As the victorious Union General in the Civil War this was natural although Grant’s time as president was a good deal less worthy of commemoration. Back in the early 1920s, people wanted to remember the good so there was a decision to commemorate the centennial of his birth.
Realistically, by 1922, the commemorative program was starting to become regular. There had been about a decade of no issues until 1915 when the Panama-Pacific program arrived. That was followed by an issue or two a year heading into 1922.
Very different as well was the use of half dollars. The Panama-Pacific program had a gold dollar and there was a McKinley gold dollar issued for a couple years, but the denomination of choice moved to the half dollar. Moreover, half dollars had issues with special markings such as the number in which the state had joined the Union.
For the Grant program, they decided to combine everything. There was a half dollar as well as a gold dollar. There was no extra work as they shared the same Laura Gardin Fraser design with Grant on the obverse and his birthplace, a frame house in Point Pleasant, Ohio, on the reverse.
Since Grant had never been a state, they had to find some other way to mark the coins so they used a star on some issues. In the case of the half dollar, the sales were actually pretty good with examples with the star having sales of 4,256 while without the star the total was 67,405.
Gold dollars were a different matter. In fact, gold dollar sales were suspect with many of the total mintages ending up in the hands of dealers or those marketing the issue meaning they were sold for various prices for an extended period of time.
It appears that the star did not change that pattern as the official Grant gold dollar sales were placed at 5,016 with star and 5,000 without.
The real sales appear to have been very poor. As Q. David Bowers suggests in his book “American Coin Treasures and Hoards” regarding the Grant dollar, “In the opinion of the present writer, only a few were sold to the general public and not many were sold to numismatists at the time of issue.”
How then did 10,000 coins manage to disappear? Bowers says, “Few details are known about the sales of gold dollars except that B. Max Mehl eventually came into possession of thousands of coins.”
Lots of Mehl customers were offered Grant gold dollars for years at low prices not at all unlike what had happened with other gold dollars before 1922.
The one good thing is the coins received good care, leaving them in Mint State for collectors today, which did not happen with every commemorative as many ended up circulating briefly. The Grant dollar today is $1,900 in MS-60 and $4,900 in MS-65 without the star while with the star they are $1,775 in MS-60 and $3,100 in MS-65. With such similar mintage, the price differential is a mystery, too.
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